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UV-light emitting gel nail polish devices may not be risk free


Maria Zhivagui, a postdoctoral scholar in the Alexandrov Lab and first author of the study, stopped getting gel manicures after seeing the results of her study.

CANCER DIGEST – Jan. 20, 2023 – The use of ultraviolet light to cure gel manicures may pose a bigger health risk than previously thought, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego.


The UV light drying devices are common in nail salons that perform gel manicures, which last longer than normal nail polish. The devices use UV light in a higher spectrum that has not been well researched compared to tanning beds, which have been conclusively proven to be carcinogenic.


While the devices are marketed as safe with nothing to be concerned about, the researchers led by Lumil Alexandrov, professor of bioengineering and cellular a molecular medicine at UC San Diego decided to see just how safe they are.


They found that the light from these devices alter DNA in three different types of skin cells tested, and also cause damage to cells’ mitochondria, which convert energy from nutrients into a form the cell needs function and grow. Their findings were published in the Jan. 17, 2023 Nature Communications.


“We saw multiple things: first, we saw that DNA gets damaged,” said Alexandrov. “ We also saw that some of the DNA damage does not get repaired over time, and it does lead to mutations after every exposure with a UV-nail polish dryer. Lastly, we saw that exposure may cause mitochondrial dysfunction, which may also result in additional mutations. We looked at patients with skin cancers, and we see the exact same patterns of mutations in these patients that were seen in the irradiated cells.”


In the study, the researchers looked at the affects of the UV light from the curing machines on three cell types from both acute, meaning single exposure, and chronic exposure, meaning repeated use over time. For the acute test, the cells were exposed for 20 minutes and then examined for cell damage. For the chronic test the cells were exposed for 20 minutes a day over three days.


What they found in both tests was that DNA damage and mitochondrial function was disrupted. When they compared the types of damage they observed, they found that the pattern of mutations was similar to that of the mutations that occur in melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer.


While these results are suggestive of potential harm from using these devices, the researchers caution that a long term study in a large population of users will be needed to determine if use of these machines increases the risk of skin cancers.


Source: University of San Diego press release

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